Family of suicide pact couple criticise decision to prosecute for murder

Bren and Jean Constant

Bren and Jean Constant - Credit: Archant

The sons of a devoted suicide pact couple have spoken of their “relief” after a coroner ruled that their mother had taken her own life and that she had not been killed by their father - who had been accused of murder.

Poppyfields, Eynesbury,

Poppyfields, Eynesbury, - Credit: Archant

The sons of a devoted suicide pact couple have spoken of their “relief” after a coroner ruled that their mother had taken her own life and that she had not been killed by their father - who had been accused of murder.

Simon and John Constant criticised the way the Crown Prosecution Service handled the case, saying it had not disclosed evidence which would have undermined the allegation of murder which was still hanging over him when he died after a fall.

An inquest heard that Brendan Constant, 87, and his wife of 61 years Jean, 86, formed a suicide pact after Jean’s health began to fail and they set out to kill themselves at their home, in Eynesbury, in August last year.

Mrs Constant was found dead at their flat and Mr Constant was close to death, but survived after he was revived by the emergency services - and was then charged with the murder of his wife.

But assistant coroner Sean Horstead recorded a suicide verdict on Mrs Constant.

“I am satisfied that Jean Constant at the time of her death had intended her life should end,” he told the inquest in Huntingdon, saying that she would have needed assistance from her husband.

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Mr Horstead said: “I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that Brendan Constant intended that his life should end that afternoon.”

Mr Constant died after a fall in April, a few weeks before he was to face court.

After the verdict, the couple’s sons, Simon and John, said in a statement: “We are very relieved by the conclusion of the coroner.

“It was always clear to us that our mother chose to end her life at a time when she found the prospect of going on unbearable. It was also clear to us that our father chose to take his own life because he did not want to go on living without his life partner.”

The statement said: “The conclusion of the coroner fully supports our thoughts. We remain baffled by the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service to charge our father with murder on the same evidence that the coroner has been able, unhesitatingly, to reach an independent conclusion of suicide.”

They wanted to know why the CPS chose to charge their father with murder and why it had not disclosed evidence from their father’s computer which showed that they had been considering a suicide pact for some years, supporting what he had told police, until the inquest.

“It is our view that the CPS failed to properly review all of the evidence in this case and that they chose not to disclose material which significantly undermined their case,” the statement said.

The sons thanked frontline police and medical staff concerned to whom they owed a “huge debt of gratitude” and said they were not criticising officers who investigated the case.

A post-mortem examination showed Mrs Constant died from plastic bag asphyxia and also had severe heart disease which could have caused her death at any time.

The couple, a retired company director and retired analytical chemist, were found at their flat at Poppyfields in Chapman Way, with gas-filled plastic bags over their heads.

Mrs Constant, who had recently suffered a stroke and had been prescribed anti-depressants, had made frequent remarks to health workers about taking her own life.

The “fiercely private” couple had not wanted to be a burden on anyone if they could no longer cope.

The inquest heard that health workers had described Mr Constant as a “perfect, polite Englishman”, who wanted to be involved in his wife’s care.

A Spokesman for CPS East of England said: “The family of Mr Constant complained to the CPS earlier this year about the way the case against their father was handled and queried why he was prosecuted. The Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East of England, Jenny Hopkins, wrote to the family in July 2017 responding to the points they raised and apologising that the offer in writing of a meeting with them was not made earlier.

“This case was properly reviewed according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors which sets the standard by which all cases are reviewed and we were satisfied there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

The spokesman said: “We considered the public interest in this case very carefully given Mr Constant’s age and the alleged motive for his actions. This included asking the police to contact his family so that we were aware of their views.

“However, we were satisfied there was sufficient evidence to show that Mr Constant had killed his wife unlawfully, with the intention required for murder. In these circumstances it would be highly unusual not to pursue a criminal prosecution.”

The spokesman added: “The fact that Mr Constant had made searches about suicide pacts did not undermine the prosecution case. We would have used this material to support the prosecution and served the download reports on the defence as evidence in the course of our case.

“The function of the CPS is not to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but to make fair, independent and objective assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for a jury to consider. This is a different function from that of a coroner’s inquest.”